Of Fae and Fate: Fairy Tale Anthology Update

It’s been a little over two months since the call for submissions closed, and I’m overdue for a public update on how things are progressing with the project.

First of all, I was really excited and a little humbled by the response to my project. I received over fifty submissions, which some people might not think is very many, but it was certainly more than I was expecting. Some of those were rejected automatically on the basis of being Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, or Beauty and the Beast retellings. Of the others, stories retold ranged from lesser-known tales from the Brothers Grim to Hans Christian Andersen and Oscar Wilde to traditional folktales of all colors, spanning Europe, South America, Africa, and Asia.

Picking which stories to keep and which to reject was a lot trickier than I had anticipated. I loved reading them all, and seeing all the different directions authors chose to go with their stories was a real pleasure.

In the end, I chose seventeen short stories. Altogether the anthology will total about 100k words. In terms of genre, there’s science fiction, horror, paranormal, romance, humor, and straight-up fantasy, so there should be something in this collection for everyone to enjoy.

As for what stage we’re at now, I am still elbow-deep in that first round of edits. I have three more stories to edit, then we start working on the second round!

Most importantly, however, is the official name and release date. The working title was “Forgotten Fairy Tales,” but that doesn’t have the “oomph” to suggest that it’s a collection of fairy tale retellings, rather than just lesser-known stories collected by the Brothers Grimm. I’m pleased to announce that the official title is “Of Fae and Fate,” which will be released October 22, 2019.

If you’ve read many of my blog posts, you’ll know that fairy tales that aren’t Disney movies are something of a passion of mine, so seeing this come together has been incredibly rewarding. One contributing author told me that before she took on this project, she hadn’t done a lot of research into the corpus of folklore that exists globally, and she was surprised how much there was. That’s what I most hope to accomplish with the publication of this anthology: to show people that fairy tales can be so much more than you expect them to be.

There are only 17 stories in my anthology, but there are hundreds and hundreds more tales that can be drawn upon for inspiration.

Leading up to the release date, I hope to add author interviews and maybe even some YouTube videos for all of you to enjoy.

And of course a big thank you to everyone who supported my anthology in any way: not only those who submitted their work (I know how scary that can be!), but those who shared the call for submissions, left comments, or asked questions.


All about “Cycle 335”

-Or- in which I tell you more than you probably ever wanted to know about my writing stuff.

Trace-the-Stars-9781642780000-tp-front-cover-80p.jpgMy short story “Cycle 335” was published this month as part of an anthology called “Trace the Stars,” published by Hemelein Publications/ LTUE Press. Sales of this anthology will be to supplement student tuition at the Life, The Universe, and Everything writing/ art/ gaming/ film conference that takes place in Provo, Utah every February. It’s a fantastic cause and I encourage you to purchase a copy.

Check out some of the other names in the anthology: Kevin J. Anderson and David Farland (who also publishes under the name Dave Wolverton). I consumed the work of those men voraciously in the days of my youth. At one point, I knew The Jedi Academy Trilogy better than I knew my scriptures – which is saying a lot since I grew up in a religious family. I fell asleep listening to the audiobook of The Courtship of Princess Leia every night for months when I was between 10 and 11.

So the fact that my name is in a book – the same book – as these guys is an incredible dream come true. My 10-year-old self did not even dare to dream that it would one day be possible. I even got to speak to David Farland at the launch event at last week’s LTUE conference. He signed my complementary author copy and I told him how much I enjoyed his work. He seemed genuinely pleased that I held his writing in such high regard, and his sincere smile at my stumbling confession was the highlight of my day.

So anyway, let me tell you about my story. Its humble beginnings came to me in a Star-Trekky-type dream where I saw two enemy ships hurling what looked like medieval maces at each other. It was a very clear, extremely vivid dream and I wrote down as much as I could immediately upon waking – it took me about an hour.

Around October 2016 I rewrote the dream and submitted it under the title of “Imperial Conciliation” and submitted it to Fiction Vortex’s 2016 short story contest. I was a top 5 finalist. In that version, the main character crashed and then began a whirlwind romance with one of the inhabitants on the planet, a man with (don’t judge me) blue teeth. Based on the merits of the story, I was invited to join the Fiction Vortex team and be part of a team of storytellers that operated in a sci-fi universe.

I got imagined the characters and the world expanded into a 10-part, 100k word novel, complete with thwarted love, illegitimate children, complicated sibling relationships, and Kurds in space. Sadly, that dream ended when the head of the that particular story  universe (aka Storyverse) decided to suspend his work with Fiction Vortex.  My story was made homeless. (No hard feelings, though)

When I reworked the story, I cut “Imperial Concilliation” in half and then added stuff to make it read like one of the Star Trek episodes that used to give me nightmares as a kid. Some of it surprised me.

Even more surprising? Some people actually like it. Take this review from Tangent Online:  “The plot manipulates the reader’s expectations in a clever way.

That’s about the highest praise anyone has ever given me in my writing. I’ve kept that review open as a tab in my browser for days and every so often I go back and read it. That word “clever.” Holy cow, it makes me think that I might actually be good.

Caution: Spoilers ahead

I recommend you pick up a copy of Trace the Stars and read my story before you take a look at the last couple of paragraphs. I’ll wait.







Now let me discuss that ending a little. Everybody dies and it turns out it’s all Julie’s – my main character’s – fault. The ending did kind of surprise me, but as with a lot of writing, I knew that was the natural conclusion the story must take. Why? Because it’s one of my biggest fears, and I think it’s a fear that’s shared by a lot of people. As the stakes get higher and we get more responsibility, we also have more opportunity to mess up as badly as it is possible to mess up. That’s true whether you work as the US Ambassador to Iraq or (like me) as a mom of 5 (soon it will be 6) kids.

At the end one of the aliens tells Julie, “We should have guessed that you’d be the weak link.” As a woman, especially, the idea of being that weak link is devastating. And for someone like Julie, who butts heads with her male commanding officer? Absolutely nothing could be worse.




Gourmet Food Storage Meals With Keith Snow

Before Immortal Works hired me onto their staff, my first taste of being a writer – one who writes for money – involved writing articles on the topic of Emergency Preparedness. First I wrote for TheSurvivalMom.com, then later I was approached by Emergency Essentials to write for them.

What follows original appeared on the beprepared.com (Emergency Essentials) blog. I’ve decided to repost it here for all of you to enjoy..

I hope after reading this interview, everyone will check out Keith Snow’s program. He has put a lot of time and effort into creating his food storage cooking course. The recipes are delicious, and the cost for the course is worth every single penny.

And now: The interview!

Food Storage Can Be Gourmet with Keith Snow

By Beth Buck

Food storage that can be eaten in times of emergency is a top priority for lovers of emergency preparedness. With the ease of ordering buckets of wheat and having it shipped to your door, and keeping in mind the wide variety of foods now available in #10 cans, acquiring food storage has never been easier. But what do you do with it once you have it elegantly squirreled away in your basement or pantry?

For some, and probably for most of us to some extent, eating our food storage is a completely different problem. It’s one thing to have buckets of wheat nicely stacked in the corner but quite another thing to make it into something edible. Food storage has become synonymous trudging through Laura Ingall’s Wilder’s “The Long Winter:” bowls of flavorless, lumpy oatmeal; coarse, plain brown bread with nothing on it. Foods that the British refer to as “stodgy.”

Prepare to have your paradigms shifted. What if I told you that you could turn your stodgy potatoes into things you’d actually want to eat, like shepherd’s pie, leek & potato soup, potato pancakes, and potato-stuffed Anaheim chilies?

Keith Snow, professional Chef and cooking instructor, has a new online class that will teach you how to make these dishes and more – all with the things you can find in your long-term food storage. I had the opportunity to chat with him about his course, Food Storage Feast, found at FoodStorageFeast.com

Beth: First of all, everyone has their own story about how they got interested in emergency preparedness. Could you describe your journey into getting involved with emergency preparedness and food storage?

Keith: In 2008 I was producing a very expensive television cooking show when the crash happened. The corporate sponsors emailed us and said there weren’t going to be any more payments. We told them, “No, that can’t be true with us, we have a contract.” But they wrote back and said everything was frozen. Not only did I have a family, I also had six people on the team who cost a fortune. Eventually we got that situation straightened out, but it made me a little nervous.

My family had a big pantry, but it was a very expensive chef’s pantry stocked with gourmet high end meats and cheeses. We had a power outage and lost a couple hundred pounds of beef. I don’t consider that food storage. I thought, what if we have another collapse, what are we going to eat? That’s when I started looking harder into survival cooking and food storage. I found The Survival Podcast, which is all about becoming less dependent on outside systems. I started learning which foods do store well, and started building a “survival pantry.”

I always knew that I needed to get into cooking with my long-term storable food. Even though I had decades of training as a chef I wasn’t much different than people who had to use Mylar bags to store beans. I put it off for a few years, until one day I said, “That’s it, I’m going to cook from our pantry for a month.” I learned a lot about how to use rice and canned beans, and what fats I could store. I found that not only did my family really enjoyed the food, but also our grocery bill dropped like a rock.

I decided needed to tell other people. As The Survival Podcast grew to 150k downloads a day, I got more questions about food storage cooking so I decided to create a course. Noah Darco started writing and I started shooting videos.

Beth: Many people just starting out in emergency preparedness in food storage are often afraid of cooking from scratch – they worry that it’s too hard – and they’re afraid of food storage food – they worry it will not taste good. What would you say to those people?

Keith: I would definitely say that’s an accurate statement because when you’re starting with poor quality ingredients it’s difficult to get something good. If you go into it with a British idea of no spices, you’ll get terrible food. Legumes are bland by nature. Oatmeal is super bland. It takes a little massaging, some chef skills, the ability to add spices, texture enhancers – add a little cooking knowledge. That’s what I offer in the course and I teach ways to make oats taste good.

From plain rice, by adding just a little bit here and there you can make Mexican rice, green rice, confetti rice, coconut-raisin rice pudding, and risotto. From beans you can make red pepper hummus, refried pinto beans, and black bean chili.

One very popular dish at my house is Caribbean rice and beans. The rice has some coconut milk in it, the beans have simple spices and peppers. We have it at least once, maybe twice a week. I’ve made it at events before. It’s a really satisfying dish. Watch the recipe video here.

The concept is to transform the bland foods into something very enjoyable by adding just a little bit of know-how. There are dozens and dozens of videos in the course.

Beth: What is your favorite food storage ingredient? What do you find is the most versatile?

Keith: Rice and beans. I just think there are a lot of benefits to using canned beans. It takes a lot of time and energy to cook them dried beans. Even with soaking overnight, they take hours to cook. You could use a pressure cooker, but that is still 40 minutes. Rice and beans are flexible foods, cook quickly, and can cook a wide variety of foods from different cultures with them.

Beth: What is your top recommendation for building what you term as a “survival pantry?”

Keith: The first thing I tell people is to not to do something. Don’t buy a lot of instant meals. Some of the freeze-dried instant meals are fine, especially from the Mountain House company.  But a lot of people fall victim to what I call “flavored powder syndrome.” You add water to it, when you’re done you have some miserable prison food. People sometimes purchase $6,000-$7,000 dollars’ worth of it, which is a complete waste of money. Freeze-dried meals to put in 72-hour kit are fine, but you should base your everyday diet on something more substantial: store what you eat, eat what you store. Replace what you already eat with food storage, heavy on things that are inexpensive and readily available: rice, beans, wheat, corn, and freeze-dried foods.

People should also store a lot of canned foods, and also some freeze-dried and dehydrated food as well. You can get started for a lot less money by starting off with one hundred cans of black beans. Canned vegetables are not as good as fresh or freeze-dried, but they do work. Also buy fruit in cans, tuna fish, coconut milk, canned chilies, canned tomatoes. Get some dried spices, ethnic sauces, and flavoring agents like soy sauce, sesame oil, and coconut oil. That kind of stuff is critical and will help you take bland foods and make them exciting.

And don’t forget to factor in rotation for your food storage. My family just finished eating rice that was purchased in 2012; I bought I bought jasmine rice and put it in Mylar, vacuum pack it, put it in a bucket. Those longer-term items we have in labeled buckets, and when we eat it we replace it. 10-pound bags. Once it gets low, go to the store and buy another 30lbs of rice. We are still eating peanut butter that’s from 2015. Make sure that we’re constantly chipping away at it. Once that bucket is gone, replace it.

Five to seven years is the longest that I’ll let beans stay in storage. Using the food as part of your menu is part of the process. Make sure the foods that you’re storing are things you’re eating. It’s like having a spare tire. Even if you have it, sometimes getting the jack out is difficult and you trash your knuckles, and even then, you might not know how to put on the spare correctly. Just because you have food storage, if you’re lacking the practice of using it, it’s not much different. Have to have a mindset that you use what you have.

The tuition for “Food Storage Feast” includes a lifetime enrollment in the course. The membership will never expire. The content is available for viewing on every device, including all videos and recipes and updates. New videos and recipes are added every month. If you struggle with creating good meals with your food storage, or even if you feel like you have a handle on it but want to try something new, this is the perfect course for you.

This course comes with my personal stamp of approval – I’ve tried out a couple of recipes for my family, and the resultant meals have been met with great enthusiasm.

This interview has been edited for clarity and readability.

Author’s note:

The original version of this post included a long spiel about the particular history of this blog post. I’ve deleted it because a) I’ve gotten it off my chest and I’m done now, and b) I want people to pay more attention to Keith Snow’s interview and program.


Let’s Talk about Novel Wordcount

At Immortal Works, we like to say that your average debut novel should be between 80k and 100k words. There are some very good reasons for that. 80,000 words is a good size for a nice, leisurely read. Not too long, not too short. For context, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is about 76,000 words.

In my work in acquisitions I’ve encountered a lot of emerging authors who think their work has to be long in order to be good. I can see where they’re coming from – just look at the bricks Brandon Sanderson has been publishing! Brandon Sanderson is a good author, and Brandon Sanderson’s books are long, ergo to be a good author one must pen very long books. Perfect example: one author who submitted a 111,000 word novel actually worried that his book was too short!

Let’s discuss Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. Even Jordan’s fans admit that he is overly verbose. He could have made his books half as long and not have sacrificed a thing in terms of nuance, plot, and character development. In fact, the middle four books of the series are referred to as “a slog.” Observe:



The meme indicates the guy had to make three attempts to read through the whole series. Not exactly a glowing review.

I felt the same way about the Outlander series. Outlander is LONG. The first book is 259k words. I got about a third the way through before I gave up. You want to know why it was long? Not because a lot of stuff happened. The author takes three times as long to convey information, and her characters have long, circular conversations that never get to the point.

Does this opinion make me a mean, Scrooge-like lady for not giving a wonderful book a second chance? No. What it makes me is a busy mom who had better things to do than give my time to a book that didn’t sufficiently capture my attention.

What I’m trying to say here is having a lot of words on the page is not a guarantee of it being worth reading.

I’m also trying to say that a lot of people are busy. If you want to write a long book, that’s perfectly fine. Be my guest. But if you want people to read it, your book had better be as action-packed as Harry Potter and you’d better have dang good writing. When you ask someone to read your book, you need to compete with everything else in that person’s life. Your book has to be more interesting than their Pinterest feed, Netflix, and their household chores.

People will read books long books if they are of sufficient quality. Order of the Phoenix was 257k, and I read that in less than a day when it came out in 2003. Oathbringer clocks in at 479,000 words and Sanderson’s fans devoured it.

I am writing this blog post in the first place because I recently received a submission for a book 164,000 words long (for comparison, that’s about the same length as The Half-Blood Prince). By way of constructive feedback, I told the author that it might be a good idea if he cut it back to 80k-100k. He didn’t like that suggestion and said it would “dilute the themes.” He said that the high word count “gives the characters time to gradually reveal their personality, lets the plot unravel, allows the atmosphere to settle in,” and to cut anything would result in “an incoherent mess of ideas and tangled plotlines.”

Here’s the thing: What if I told you that you could keep all your themes and – in addition! – keep your prose tight and succinct?

I’ll show you how by letting you see a very embarrassing passage I wrote in 2005, back when I was too young in my career to know how far I still had to go. Here it is:

He remembered the boredom he felt in Khaldunia, his desperation to escape the suffocating Harem politics that had killed his mother and sent his two older sisters to be brides of men twice their age, a fate that was worse than death. Men who did not value them as anything other than slaves. The old anger and hurt came to him again. Daughters of a minor wife did not count for much. He clasped the hilt of his dagger and recalled his impotence in the field of battle. He did not save her village. He was a poor commander. He mentally shook himself out of that train of thought. He was starting to probe into the dark place in his soul that housed his feelings. He found that if he focused too much on that place, everything else fell apart.

Let’s be honest. This is boring, sentimental navel-gazing, full of passive voice. All telling, no showing.

To fix it, let’s allow the character’s words and actions tell us what he thinks and feels.

Anharin clasped the hilt of his dagger so hard his knuckles turned white, his eyes blazed.

Ilzadar recoiled. “Have I said something wrong? I didn’t mean to imply that you failed–“

Anharin cut her off. “But I did fail. I was in command, and my men still burned your village. I can’t seem to save anyone I care about, not you, nor my mother, nor my sisters.”

“What happened to them?”

“Best not to say. Daughters of a minor wife don’t count for much.”

The first passage is 140 words. The second is 83. There’s dialog. People talking to each other are more interesting than an inwardly running commentary. All the relevant details are there. This is the essence of what it means to hone your craft. It’s easy to wander all over the page and hope you get somewhere, but it takes a lot more skill to do have a clear destination in mind and lead other people there with as few words as possible.

When editors and agents look at your work, they don’t care about your themes, or the artistic, wandering nature of your naturally unfolding plot. They care about a good story. If your purple prose makes your book a Robert-Jordan-style slog, no one will want to read it.

Call for Submissions: Forgotten Fairy Tales


Immortal Works Publishing is ready to announce its latest short story anthology. Our working title is Forgotten Fairy Tales.

You don’t have to be a child to enjoy the magic of fairy tale literature. We keep retelling Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White because they are stories that last and endure through the ages and everybody likes them. Yet for some reason film and YA novels tend to stick with retelling the same eight stories, even though the corpus of world literature includes thousands of folktales. The day has arrived to shine some light on the stories that have been neglected and hidden – the ones that remain largely unknown. To that end, Immortal Works wants your reimaginings and retellings of the fairy tales most people haven’t heard of.

For your submission to be considered for inclusion in our anthology, keep in mind:

  • We’re looking for short stories, so anything from 2,000-10,000 words.
  • Your retelling has to be appropriate for younger audiences (think a light PG-13), so please no profanity, graphic violence, or sexual content.
  • In your cover letter please reference the fairy tale or folktale that you have chosen to retell. Stories from one literary tradition will not be given preference over another, but source material should come from the public domain.
  • Send your submission to beth.buck@immortal-works.com by Saturday, January 5, 2019 with your story as an attachment in .docx or .odt format, double spaced and in an easy-to-read font.

Please DO NOT:

  • Choose to retell a story featuring a well-known princess. These princesses already have their own theme park. They’ve had their day in the spotlight and it’s time to give someone else a turn. In other words, Cinderella and her kind are not invited to participate in this anthology. *Please note that Yeh Shen and Rhodopis would still be eligible for consideration.
  • Use names inspired by well-known animated films. Stories featuring characters with names like Aurora, Belle, or Ariel will be rejected politely and immediately upon receipt.
  • Talk down to your audience when you write your story. Just because this anthology is about fairy tales doesn’t mean it’s supposed to be at a 2nd grade reading level.
  • Fake knowledge of spinning and spinning wheels. If you choose to feature spinning wheels in your story, please do your research and be accurate. The editor is very familiar with spinning wheels and will be able to tell if you get it wrong. That said, if you ask her nicely she’ll be able to direct you to resources to help you out.

Regarding compensation: Authors will not receive up-front payments. Authors will share in the revenues from sales of the book over time and will receive one (1) complimentary author copy.

Please help us make this our best anthology ever by sharing this call for submissions with other interested parties.

My Black Belt Test, as told in gifs.

March 8 of this year marked the fourth anniversary of my black belt test. I wrote about it on my other blog which I have since archived, so it’s time to transfer it over here along with some updates.

I consider earning my black belt to be one of my greatest achievements because it was so dang hard. In the months immediately afterward I felt like I could do anything: Run for office, get a PhD, fulfill my dreams. Going through that grueling test and succeeding unlocked part of my brain. I stopped dreaming and started doing. Mostly, I started writing, and now my dreams are coming true.

January 2014 when my instructor called me on the phone to give me the date of the test, I was like:

I immediately called my husband at work and left a very long, very panicked message on his voicemail. I kind of didn’t want to do the test, but at that point it was either progress or stop training. And I didn’t want to quit Karate, so I get to work, training, training:

But that doesn’t help my mounting anxiety.

And the morning of the test I woke up kind of like this:


And after breakfast I had something of a nervous breakdown.

And then there was the test itself. Which was pretty much four hours of this:

 And this:

When I really just wanted to do this:

 And this:

Partway through, I nearly collapsed and put my hands over my face in despair because I was so spent. The Master who was running the test yelled at me for it and said, “What is this? Did you take drama in high school or something?”

“No, sir,” I said in a tiny voice (I lettered in drama – twice). I then proceeded to do my forms – again – with tears silently coursing down my cheeks.

When it was finally over, all of us testing were told to meditate with our eyes closed. And I felt unworthy:


But, incredibly, when I was told to open my eyes, I saw my spiffy certificate that said “Black Belt” with my very own name on it:

And even when my instructor threatened to send me to test for second in a mere two years:

I Driving home:

I rode that high for months:

It’s true what they say about your black belt being only the first step. My first lesson after my test, I was given a grand vision about how much I still had to learn. Being a black belt didn’t mean I had achieved some kind of Karate nirvana; it just meant I’ve spent a lot of time at the dojo. And maybe I’ve learned some stuff, but mostly I am still young in The Art.

About “Faith and Patience”


I have a serial fiction dealie being published with Fiction Vortex called “Faith and Patience.” It’s available to read on the fictionite.io app, so if you are intrigued by what you read in this post, give fictionite a try.

“Faith and Patience” has been very fun to write. I got the idea to write it as a spur-of-the-moment, seat-of-my pants kind of thing, the way many ideas come to us, though the idea was marinating in my brain for the better part of a decade.

It’s about a girl, Faith Kingston, who declines her father’s insistence that she work as an intern at his law firm for the summer. She wants to be in charge of her own destiny, her way, not constrained by her parents’ ambitions for her. Offended, Mr. Kingston informs his daughter that she’ll get her wish, but only if she a) lives with an elderly great-uncle for the summer and b) makes $10k by summer’s end. A tall order for a girl only thirteen years old! Faith finds out pretty early on that there’s more to Uncle Vinnie than meets the eye. He talks to his pet goat, for one thing. And then there are the weird hats. And sometimes she overhears him muttering to himself about Thoth and Isis like they’re real people.

Will Faith meet her goals? Or will pesky child-labor laws get in the way? And then there’s Faith’s jealous older sister Deirdre – does she have an agenda of her own?

I’ll give you some spoilers: “Faith and Patience” is actually a modernized retelling of a story found in the Olive Fairy Book by Andrew Lang called “Kupti and Imani.” I got the Olive Fairy Book for Christmas when I was like thirteen or something, and immediately fell in love with this story. Imani, our story’s bold heroine, is smart, with a real head for business, and brave, too. The fact that Mr. Lang cites this as an “old Punjabi story” added to the appeal. Frustrated with a world that reproduces the Cinderella Story once every two or three years, I wanted a retelling of this story.

So I finally got the opportunity to do it myself.  It’s set in Wethersfield, CT, and – spoiler! – Dubai, so you guys are in for a treat. Episode 3 is going live soon – hope you enjoy it!





The Excitement of Discovering Books

I love being an Acquisitions Editor. There is something so thrilling about reading a fantastic story, especially when you are the first ones privileged to read it. When you sit there with tears streaming down your face, knowing you’ve just experienced something special, it fills you with the desire to bring it to the world. And sometimes, if you’re lucky, you can.  That, my friends, is a good feeling.

It has changed how I experience other books, as well. When I open up a book, I imagine all the people who read that book before it was published, who believed in it, who knew what they had in front of them.

I used to think that there were only so many books one civilization had any kind of need for. Wow, is that untrue. There is a terrible thirst in the world for new stories. Don’t stop writing, any of you. Keep writing, keep publishing, keep reading.


Notes on “Because You’re Engaged”

unspokenwordsA facebook-based critique group that I am a part of is on the cusp of launching an anthology of short stories. I wrote one of them, titled “Because You’re Engaged.” It’s about a young career woman who is trying to navigate her flagging emotions for her difficult fiance while also starting to notice her co-worker. I am really excited this story is getting published, because it’s a story I’ve been wanting to tell for about thirteen years.

I got engaged in April 2003 to a guy who really wasn’t a good fit for me. My “Colin” character is based on him. I won’t shame him on my public blog with a litany of his sins, but I will say that the time we spent as an engaged couple was a very dark period in my life. I had wretched anxieties and my relationship with my mother – who disapproved of him for valid reasons – was shot. I had nightmares and my roommates told me I was groaning with despair in my sleep.

By November, I was having regular panic attacks, which corresponded with the times when I knew I’d see him. I realized that I felt more at ease around my casual male friends than I did around the man I was supposed to marry.

My character John is based on one of these friends. We would regularly complete our Arabic homework together, and he used to tease me about being makhtouba, or engaged. As my relationship with my fiance worsened, I began to notice more nice things about my friend. We never got together or anything, but I did break up with my fiance.

In the weeks following the breakup, everyone I knew let out a collective sigh of relief. “I’m so glad!” they said. “I didn’t want to say anything, but you guys weren’t a very good match.”

My original drafts showed Colin doing all the obnoxious things I hated about my fiance, and used some of the out-of-this-world hateful dialog based on things he actually said to me. The problem with that is it turned my love story about John and Jess finding each other into a hate story about how incredibly rotten Colin was. That doesn’t make for a very good story. The Colin in the published story is not super-likable, but he’s a lot less horrible compared to that original draft.


I put a lot of myself in this. I spent the last two years of high school in Mina Saud, Kuwait. The back door to our house was about a hundred yards away from the beach and I spent as much time as I could there. The open sky and the comfortable solitude and the dull roar of the breaking surf became my best friends. I used that as the setting for the kiss because that was always my dream, to share the beauty of that ocean with someone. I probably won’t ever make it back there with the man I eventually married, so I had to be content with imagining it.

The part where Jess ducks into the bathroom because she doesn’t want to see her fiance? That happened. And my fiance did actually suspect that something was up with my Study Buddy from Arabic class. He went so far as to track down my roommate at her work and ask her point-blank about my relationship with him. For the record: there was nothing up, ever.

To read “Because You’re Engaged” along with a dozen or so other short stories, pre-order your copy of Unspoken Words today. It will be released in paperback and as an ebook on October 26.


We Have More Than 8 Fairy Tales


How To Not Be Derivative

I grew up reading the collected works of Andrew Lang, along with Tolkien and C.S. Lewis and L. Frank Baum and all the other classic tellers of modern fairy tales. I love fairy tales, and I always thought of myself as a person who truly loved fairy tales.

That changed this year.

When Immortal Works took me on as part of their acquisitions team, for the first time I got a really good look at what other people write when they think they are writing a modern fairy tale. Invariably they choose one of the following to rewrite:

  • Cinderella
  • Sleeping Beauty
  • Snow White
  • The Little Mermaid
  • Beauty and the Beast
  • Rapunzel
  • Sleeping Beauty again.
  • Also Cinderella

I’ve seen queries for gender-switched retellings, descendants of the main characters, stories about the villains, retellings where the main character is a huntress, etc etc. All based on the very small pantheon of Disney Princesses.

And it’s extremely common, too, for me to see queries about fairy tale characters with the Disney names. While Belle is not a copyrighted name, when I see that you’re writing a Beauty and the Beast treatment with a character named Belle, it sends up a red flag to me that your understanding of the original source material is shallow. I know ahead of time not to expect anything fresh or new and as I delve into your writing sample I am usually right. Don’t try to pitch a book about Maleficent, or reference Rapunzel’s magic hair. These things are unique to the Disney films. Including them as integral parts of your story tells me that your knowledge of fairy tales is limited to what is available at the Disney store.

I don’t like fairy tales any more, not if this is what “Fairy Tale” has come to mean: cheap and glitzy high-fructose corn syrup.

Here’s the truth: Western Civilization gave birth to more than eight fairy tales. Read a little deeper into the lore and you’ll find everything that modern audiences love about fairy tales: heroines that save the day with their bravery and wit; fantastical creatures that rival JK Rowling in creativity; mystery and adventure and humor. We have Kupti and Imani, the Nettle Spinner, To Your Good Health, Why The Sea is Salt, and so many more. (I even gave you the links, so now you don’t have an excuse not to read them.) Why we insist on fifty-four renditions of Cinderella, arguably one of the most boring fairy tales, is beyond me.

Now, there are some really excellent retellings out there. I adore retellings when they are done well. Among my favorites are Gail Carson Levine’s Ella Enchanted (the book, not the movie), Alex Finn’s Mirrored, Shannon Hale’s The Goose Girl, and Orson Scott Card’s Enchantment.

What can you do to write a unique fairy tell retelling that’s fresh and not hopelessly derivative? I put together a little list for you.

  • Stay away from anything Disney. If the Walt Disney company has made a movie of it, choose a different fairy tale. There are literally hundreds to choose from. Literally. And they’re all in the public domain.
  • If you must use a story that has been made into a Disney movie, stay away from the Disney names. Ariel, Belle, Aurora, Jasmine, and Malificent are no-nos.
  • Return to the original source material. Cinderella has been told and retold thousands of times across history. Look to Yeh-Shen, Rhodapis, and other ancient versions for inspiration.
  • Read widely. Tolkien’s essay On Fairy Stories, and also all those so-called classics you were supposed to read in high school but didn’t like Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the Green Night, The Epic of Gilgamesh, and The Illiad are good jumping-off points.

I wrote this rant not because I want to shame people who write endless Cinderella retellings, but because there is more in heaven and earth and in literature than is dreamt of in your philosophy. The scope and breadth of fairy tale literature is rich and full and there are too many writers who don’t take advantage of it. These are the stories I want – write your next novel about The Story of Little King Loc or the Colony of Cats or the Yellow Dwarf. Leave Cinderella alone. She’s already done her job.